Sharing Hidden Histories: KCL’s History Department Monuments Marathon and Parks & Palaces Plod

Elle Larsson (PhD Candidate, KCL) walks us through the King’s History Monuments Marathon; a great day out for an even better cause.  The text and images were originally posted by Elle on ISpyHistory.

Monuments Marathon (3)

© Elle Larsson


For the past month or so you may have seen me posting links to the crowdfunding page for an event King’s History Department runs biennially – the Monuments Marathon and Parks & Palaces Plod. The ‘Marathon’ was set up in 2014 by former KCL Professor Ludmilla Jordanova in order to raise funds for the Undergraduate Hardship fund, although this years’ sponsorship was for the equivalent MA fund. The idea as pitched to us was to take to the ‘streets and parks of London to tour sites of historical interest, learning from each other’ along the way.

Hearing that, I should think it will come as no surprise to hear that when we received an email advertising the event back in April, I was immediately on board with the idea – fundraising while learning about history and walking around London – what was not to love! The plan was to walk to 26 historic sites over the distance of around 10 miles, the walk starting at King’s and featuring 4 minute ‘street talks’ from volunteers choosing to speak on sites of their choice along the route.

And that is exactly what we did last Sunday. We walked a grand total of around 13.8 miles, taking in 26 historic sites over the course of around 10 hours. I should say at this point however that 4 members of the department put in an extra tremendous effort, rising early and running an 11.5 mile route taking in the palaces of London – beginning with the Tower of London and ending with Kensington Palace, before heading back to KCL and joining the rest of us on the walk!

It was a really fantastic day – we had good weather, great company and were able to share some of the lesser known stories of London we’ve each come across during the course of our own research. A huge range of topics were covered and what struck me in particular was that even though some of these places are signified by plaques and statues, the stories are much richer than can be conveyed by those markers alone, while others simply had no markers at all.

A few things from the day have stuck out in particular. For example the origin of the legend of the ‘Black Dog’ of Newgate and how beneath Trafalgar Square there was/is a rich source of prehistoric archaeological material, including Mammoths; the fact that beneath Benjamin Franklin’s house a large number of human skeletons had been excavated, owing to the fact that another of its former residents had been a comparative anatomist, who himself died after contracting sepsis from one of his cadavers! But I think my favourite snippet has to be hearing about the mechanized waxwork of Mrs. Salmon which was booby-trapped to kick patrons as they left her establishment. Who new early nineteenth century waxworks could be mechanized?

These stand out for me but each talk was incredibly interesting and below I’ve put the entire list of places we visited and topics covered by our talks to give you an idea of the history that is out there and sites that you may have previously walked passed having never realized their significance. It was truly a case of Ispyhistory at its best and it’s safe to say that in two years’ time, when this event comes round again, my feet better be ready for a repeat performance!

  1. Lady Somerset and the Temperance Child, Victoria Embankment Gardens (Statue).
  2. Benjamin Franklin House, 36 Craven Street, (Plaque).
  3. Mammoths in the Square, Trafalgar Square.
  4. The Strand Menagerie, 372 Strand, (Building).
  5. Mrs Salmon’s Waxworks, 17 Fleet Street, (Building).
  6. Picasso in London, 51 Floral Street (Plaque).
  7. The Slayer of Soho: John Snow’s Pump, 39 Broadwick Street.
  8. Banking Natural History, 32 Soho Square (Plaque).
  9. Penning the Vindication, Store Street.
  10. Fitzrovia Revolutionaries, Fitzroy Square (Statue).
  11. Camden Pan-Africanism, 22 Cranleigh Street (Plaque).
  12. South African Freedom Fighters, 13 Lyme Street (Plaque).
  13. Gandhi’s London, Tavistock Square (Statue).
  14. Emmeline Pankhurst’s House, 8 Russell Square, (Building).
  15. Literary Lights and Colonial Students, Mecklenburgh Square.
  16. Anti-Suffragism and Settlement Houses, 42 Queen Square, (Building).
  17. The Women’s Freedom League, 144 High Holborn, (Building).
  18. Meating One’s Maker, Smithfield Market.
  19. ‘The Black Dog of Newgate’, Warwick Lane.
  20. Indigenous Transnationals at St Paul’s, (Building).
  21. Rude Deeds on Rood Lane, Rood Lane, (Building).
  22. Tower Hill Memorial, Trinity Square Gardens, (Memorial).
  23. The Falklands Memorial, Trinity Square Gardens, (Memorial).
  24. Altab Ali Park, Adler Street, (Memorial).
  25. Responding to the Ripper, 14 Cannon Street Road, (Exhibition).
  26. Execution Dock, 57 Wapping Wall.

Walk part 1

Walk part 2

Walk part 3

It will come as a little surprise that after a grand total of 13.8 miles well-earned celebratory drinks and a sit down were then had at the prospect of Whitby Pub!